MIAMI, Fla. — Thank you, Miami Heat. Thank you LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. Thank you Shane Battier and Mike Miller and whoever else was draining 3-pointers from every corner of the court.
Thank you, Miami Heat dancers and Gloria Estefan and that little girl who kept singing the anthem because she was a good-luck charm.
Thank you, Erik Spoelstra and Pat Riley and all those fans who look like they just stepped off a Miami Vice shoot.
You all did the Thunder a big solid. You beat the snot out of Oklahoma City's basketball team. You routed the Thunder 121-106 Thursday night to win the NBA championship, and you made it hurt.
“It hurts,” said Kevin Durant. “It hurts, man. It hurts to go out like this.”
Just exactly what the Thunder needed.
No close calls. No near misses. No closing game like those first four, all of which came down to three or four key plays.
This was blowout city. This was no-doubt-about-it basketball. The better team won. And the Thunder was given a priceless lesson: It still has a ways to go.
The only thing better than that knowledge to take away from the NBA Finals would have been the O'Brien Trophy. Without it, the Thunder needed to know that wondrous talent and solid character and believing in each other still weren't enough.
The Thunder needed to know that on this level, it has to play smart and tough on every possession. Needed to know that it can't relax against a team like the Heat. Can't resort to old habits or momentary lapses.
And no better way to impart that knowledge than getting taken to the woodshed by third quarter's end in the season's final game.
“Embrace the feeling and remember this feeling,” Russell Westbrook said he, Durant and James Harden told each other as the dismal final minutes wound down.
“We've got to get better. We've got to be the guys that come back and push everybody next season and just got to get better, man, before we can find a way to get back here.”
The Thunder showed its inexperience again, just like in Game 3, only this time not in limited form. For huge chunks of a ballgame in which the LeBron Gang was locked and loaded.
The Thunder was too sloppy, like when Durant blocked a LeBron shot, corralled the ball and headed upcourt, with a chance to cut into Miami's five-point lead early in the third quarter. Durant decided to go all Curly Neal; his behind-the-back dribble was swiped, and 37 seconds later the Heat had sunk two 3-pointers and restored its double-digit lead.
The Thunder was too passive. Truth is, the Heat pushed around the Thunder. The Heat isn't a tall ball team, but it is a burly ball team. The Thunder has got to respond, and didn't.
“They were so aggressive defensively,” said Scotty Brooks. “They were challenging every dribble, they were challenging every pass and they were challenging every shot. They really played a physically intimidating brand of basketball tonight.”
The Thunder has to match that. The Thunder was physical against Dallas and the Lakers and San Antone, but the physicality rises in the Finals, which is part artistic beauty but also part prize fighting.
A game like this should gnaw at the Thunder. Should remind the Boomers during the short offseason of what it takes to be a champion, and how they fell shy.
“I'm going to find the positives and the negatives,” Durant said. “It was tough losing the Finals. We got to the Finals, had a tough road to get here. But we've just got to move past it, I guess. It's going to hurt for a little bit.”
That hurt will help. If the Thunder had lost Game 5 the way it lost Games 2, 3 and 4, if a tying shot in the final minute had rimmed out, the Thunder could truthfully say it was this close to the crown.
Thunder fans could scream about the officiating, analysts could find the particular substitutions that swayed a game here or there and Brooks could point to a pass or a shot or a rebound that was the only difference between the Heat and the Thunder.
But not now. A wipeout like this lets the Thunder know hard work remains.
Wade bumped into Durant and Westbrook as they left the press conference podium and said he told them, “Man, hopefully we'll see y'all next year again.”
But Wade warned: “One thing I've learned, nothing is promised. You have to seize every moment.”
The Heat lost the 2011 Finals, and LeBron, in the catacombs of American Airlines Arena on Thursday night, called it the “best thing that happened to me last year, and me playing the way I played. Because basically I got back to the basics. It humbled me.”
That's the word. This game humbled the Thunder. It's a fairly humble bunch to begin with. A game like this will make the Thunder hungrier to return.
Thanks, Miami. Oklahoma City owes you one.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at email@example.com. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.